To see former Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker playing music
at all is a golden occasion; to witness her standing up and pounding away
behind her huge drum kit--something she's done only rarely in the last quarter
century--was a glorious event indeed. That Magnet, the band she backed on
Saturday (May 10), turned in a night's worth of enjoyable, jangly rock and roll
turned out to be icing on the cake.
Although Tucker has lit out on several
tours to support her own solo albums in the past ten years, those gigs featured
her as a guitar playing frontwoman. With Magnet, whose debut album Don't Be
A Penguin (PC Music) was released last week, she returns to the original
role she established as an unadorned, unquestionably powerful rhythm maker.
Those who came out to Arlington, Virginia's Iota on Saturday received a glimpse
into a past that they likely never encountered first hand.
Magnet's show held its own by also serving a status report from the present,
confirming as anticipated, that Tucker's style is timeless. While there's no
shame in having her work inextricably linked to that of the Velvets, Tucker can
take pride knowing that her natural, singular approach is as current today as
it ever was.
As the members of Magnet arranged themselves on stage, they
highlighted the double-edged nature of the ex-Velvet's participation for leader
and songwriter Mark Goodman. Their set up clearly focused attention on Tucker.
Three men (Goodman, ex-Ween bassist Matt Cohut, and a local guitarist) formed
an arc around the female drummer, who was again set off by the sizable
semi-circle of white drums between her and the rest of the band. Against this
dynamic, Goodman had to define himself as a talent worth the audience's notice
with or without the draw of Tucker.
During the first several
During the first several songs much of the crowd
inevitably concentrated on Tucker. They examined her bellowing kit (featuring a
bass drum on a stand, one floor tom, two mounted toms, a snare, a high hat, and
two cymbals); watched as she switched from big sticks to heavy mallets, then
mixed the two; noticed that she had instructions for each song written in a
notebook on the floor (something she also carries along during her solo shows);
and simply absorbed her unpretentious style.
At the same time, the loose
band paid attention to each other, looking for cues and following signals.
Their interaction in turn prompted the crowd to eventually focus on Goodman and
to warm his songs. This first part of the set offered some of the most tuneful
songs from Don't Be A Penguin, especially "Banger" and "On We
Interestingly, it was Tucker who may have shined the least early on.
In fact, the fifty-two year old drummer appeared nervous and burdened as she
stared intently downward at her kit. It was as if she knew that the crowd had
turned out to see Goodman's band because of her role in it, and was thus more
conscious of getting her parts right. With Magnet, Tucker carries a different
responsibility than with her own band. If she blows a performance with the Moe
Tucker Band, then she alone takes the hit; if she falls down behind Magnet,
it's Goodman--now receiving the most attention he's ever seen as a
musician--whose career suffers.
Whether or not such a burden was at the
root of Tucker's state on Saturday, she and Goodman have in their short time
together have already found the key to loosening the drummer up. Five songs
into their set, the band members shuffled about, Tucker donned Goodman's
guitar, and the group rolled into her signature solo tune, "Bo Diddley."
Immediately she looked more confident. Under her short hair, her weathered
face showed a slight beam, and later she broke out with a full smile. As she
banged out the familiar rhythm on guitar, Tucker looked back to Cohut,
encouraging him on the drums. She allowed herself to become mesmerized between
verses, and by example urged the crowd to do the same. For a good seven minutes
or so, everyone drank from the very well that gave birth to Tucker's entire
Both the band and the audience reaped the rewards of this
refueling. Tucker returned to the kit rejuvenated, and Magnet ripped into the
best song from Don't Be A Penguin, the opening track "Julie." With
mallets in hand, the drummer raised her left arm as if it were part of a
mechanical press. Though she still gazed intently down at her kit, she now
projected an air of being transfixed by the instrument and all of which it was
capable. From that point on, the band played with more muscle, acing songs such
as "Summer & Winter" and the sea chantey "Down Down." On "Even If," Tucker
offered a delicious stalled accent (hitting the third and fourth beat rather
than the second and fourth), the type of subtle move that sometimes gets
overlooked by listeners honed in on her tom heavy sound. It was a quiet,
To be sure, Magnet could use more of an edge in its sound
(perhaps with stronger vocals or more biting guitar) to maintain momentum
beyond the association with Tucker. For now, however, with Moe fresh behind the
kit and Goodman's melodies in abundant supply, the band is set to score.
Listeners are well advised to take in the show before Tucker puts her kit in
storage for another 25 years.